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Signs of Depression in Children and Teens

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Signs of Depression in Children and Teens

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The last year has been tough on everyone, and as a result of that we have seen a higher rate of mental health struggles in children and teens. Children and teens have missed out on milestones such as graduation and prom, as well as the loss of daily social interaction with their friends. All of these things paired with the ongoing uncertainty has added additional stress to the already chaotic time that is middle and high school. Under these circumstances, it is easy for symptoms of depression to creep in.

Out of all of the mental health concerns that children and teens deal with, depression is one of the most scary for parents to encounter. While it is true that most children and teens with depression will not deal with severe suicidal thoughts, it is still a concern for many parents – especially with the rise in suicide rates over the past 10 years within the 10-24 year old age group. For this reason, it is important to take the signs of depression seriously when they present in your child.

While it is completely natural for any person to feel blue after the past year, there is a difference between normal sadness and clinical depression. As parents, we want to make sure that our children are not experiencing the latter, but how can we tell? Below you’ll find some common indicators of depression in children and teens, and how you can get help if you notice these signs in your own child.

Causes of Depression in Children and Teens

While it is true that depression is often brought on by a chemical imbalance in the brain, there are many more complex elements that work together to cause depression in children and teens. It is not perfectly clear how all parts of the brain contribute to depression, but researchers are still studying the brain and nervous system to hopefully figure out why some people are more at risk than others. That being said, there are some things that absolutely do contribute to a child or teen’s depression. Those main causes are:

  • Early childhood trauma
  • Ongoing stress or recent trauma, including a death in the family
  • Genetics (mainly from close family members only)
  • Major life changes such as a move or breakup
  • Social Isolation
  • Chronic physical illness
  • Poor sleep and nutrition

For most children and teens, a child therapy will not be able to point to one cause for their symptoms. Most commonly, depression develops through a buildup of several factors that eventually lead to a change in mood. As stressors (such as social isolation) pile on, depression is more likely to arise.

Signs & Symptoms of Depression in Children

Since young children experience many emotional roller coasters throughout the day, it can be difficult to figure out if they are dealing with depression or just a particularly moody day. Smaller children can show the signs of depression differently than older kids and teens, and since they may not be able to put their feelings into words, you may notice depression appear in the form of behavioural changes. Here are a few common symptoms of depression in younger children:

  • Frequent stomach or headaches that don’t respond to treatment
  • Inability to concentrate at school
  • Having trouble sleeping, or sleeping way too much
  • Low self-esteem
  • Inability to handle criticism or rejection
  • Being overly sensitive, quick to cry, or generally grumpy

While depression in younger children is not as common as anxiety, it does still occur. In children under 10, boys are seemingly more at risk of depression than girls. If you notice more than one of the signs above in your child and they have lasted for more than a few weeks, you may need to consider finding some help for your child.

Signs & Symptoms of Depression in Teens

Depression in teens is much more common than in younger children due to the intensified focus on body image, social status, and gender/sexual identity. All of these new challenges come with physical changes, hormonal fluctuations, academic pressure, and the beginning of adulthood. It is no surprise that lots of teens end up feeling isolated, alone, and look poorly at themselves. As we mentioned above, it’s these causes that can lead to depression.

While depression is more common in young boys under 10, it becomes significantly more common in young women starting around adolescence. Not all teens will present depression symptoms the same, and many will not fit the stereotypical persona of a sad, quiet, withdrawn individual. Here are some common symptoms of depression in teens:

  • Expressing feelings impulsively through substance abuse or self harm
  • Outbursts of anger
  • Being hopeless or uninterested in the future
  • Sudden and unusual dropping of grades at school
  • Talking about death and dying often
  • Withdrawing from extracurricular activities that they usually enjoy
  • Self isolating from friends and family

If you notice a few of these symptoms in your teen, you should encourage them to openly communicate with you so that you can make the best plan for them. If they aren’t receptive to you, encourage them to speak with their doctor or school counselor. Finally, if you are worried that your teen is at risk of suicide, call 911 or a local crisis hotline immediately.

Treatment Options

Once you have identified a possible case of depression in your child or teen, you can start by seeing a pediatrician, who will likely refer you to a mental health professional. A counselor, social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist will be able to make a definitive diagnosis and get your child on the right path. These professionals will look at the type and number of symptoms your child is having in order to make a depression diagnosis, and will also ask questions to determine if the symptoms are standing in the way of your child’s daily life. It’s important to note that just because your child may not qualify for Major Depressive Disorder, there are other forms of depression that are less severe but still valid and in need of treatment.

When it comes to a child with depression, therapy can make a huge difference in their ability to cope with symptoms and overcome their diagnosis. It’s not easy navigating life as a young person, and with the added stressors of the past year many children and teens are in need of coping skills and support from a mental health professional.

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Shelly Long is a child therapy specialist and mental health professional. If you would like to learn more about how you can find help for a depressed child or teen, then you can contact with her.

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